Iran has been extremely divided since the Shah left Iran for exile in 1979. The last Persian Monarch of the time, he left his duties to a regency council and the opposition prime minister, and in the decades that followed the country never fully stabilized. Rampant corruption and civil rights abuses have been frequently cited as a roadblock to economic equality. However, in recent years the already politically tumultuous climate may have reached a new low, thanks in large part to burgeoning economic and social discontent.
The causes of anger are all too similar to the other oil-rich countries in the region: corruption and financial inequality. Sanctions from the U.S. and other Western powers were lifted in 2016, until being reinstated by under Donald Trump’s orders. That two-year span of relief did little to improve factors such as youth unemployment, which is at an all-time high. The price of fuel, dairy and meat have skyrocketed and show no sign of letting up.
Mark Dubowitz from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) spoke with the Wall Street Journal about the present state of Iran, and how the current administration could learn something from Ronald Reagan. Dubowitz’ opinion on this: “The Islamic Republic of Iran is imperialist, repressive, and—unless we adopt a new strategy—[is] on its way toward possessing nuclear weapons.” The series of public Iranian protests, which lasted from December 2017 to January 2018, could suggest a threat to the stability of the government.
Details regarding the size of the demonstrations and specifics behind the groups present and their motivations are unclear due to the Iranian government’s strict control over news outlets. The Iranian Minister of the Interior went as far as to blame the stoked fears on social media and as a response, the government swore to clamp down on the technologies.
During the protests, many cities experienced widespread power outages. While the government takes no responsibility for the blackouts, many believe the timing is evidence at how far the Iranian administration will go to keep information from leaving the country’s borders. At its peak, the entire country experienced a drop as high as 50% in internet traffic. Since then, likely as a result of paranoia about web-activity monitoring, the country has seen a significant rise in the use of online masking software, such as the anonymous browser TOR.
We know for certain that the national unrest was kicked off by a protest in Mashhad because of surging prices. It’s clear the feelings were shared across the country. Many experts say that protests against the Iranian regime were caused by the corruption of the government that ruined Iran's economy. Click here to read more about Mark Dubowitz.
In response to the events, President Rouhani gave an official statement condoning the citizens’ right to protest in a peaceful manner. His words, however, are in stark contrast to the actions his administration has taken since; going so far as to ban English language lessons because they were to blame for a “cultural invasion of Western Values.”
The government’s actions didn’t end there. Many watch-dog organizations have cited the country’s record-high arrests and use of torture as evidence that basic freedoms are not respected. Nearly thirty suspicious deaths were reported during the protests and US intelligence agencies received reports of inmates being treated inhumanely. In one instance a 15-year-old was given a five-year prison sentence because he removed a government flag from a city square.
If these kinds of human rights violations persist and the government continues to censor free press and individuals alike then Western alliances might be forced to heighten the sanctions already in place. However, China’s recent oil purchases have proved that not all countries are willing to honor US sanctions. What’s more, any ability for the current administration to negotiate a new Nuclear deal will be hampered by the corrupt government’s actions. As Iran’s financial inequality worsens, it’s likely more civil unrest will follow.